Colorado’s U.S. attorney first says mosque threat wasn’t bias-motivated, then backtracks

The U.S. attorney for Colorado backtracked Saturday after sending an email to leaders in Denver’s Muslim community saying the man accused of wielding a gun outside a Denver mosque on Thursday was not motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

The email was sent less than 24 hours after Denver police took 24-year-old Benjamin Casillas-Rocha into custody for investigation of felony menacing after he allegedly waved an airsoft rifle and shouted anti-Islamic comments to people standing outside the Masjid Al-Shuadaa mosque.

Dunn sent a second email Saturday afternoon to Muslim community members to clarify his comments and to apologize for creating “a false impression that any investigation had reach definitive conclusions.”

“While I had received some initial reports from my staff that it did not appear to be a hate-motivated incident, I should have been more clear that it was still an open investigation by DPD and that any ultimate conclusions about what happened or what was motivating the individual would be up to that agency,” Dunn wrote.

The first email, sent Friday afternoon to 24 community members, said investigators had “concluded that the person was not motivated by any anti-Muslim sentiment, as may have been incorrectly reported in the media, and instead appears to have simply been a highly intoxicated resident of the neighborhood.”

The email confused members of the Muslim community who received it because the investigation seemed to be in its early stages, multiple people on the email chain told The Denver Post. Several responded to Dunn for clarification.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said in a statement: “This morning the U.S. Attorney was asked for clarification regarding his first email to the community, which he provided. He continues to stand ready to support and protect houses of worship, including the mosque in question.”

Still, several people praised Dunn for his quick response and strong support during another troubling incident for Colorado Muslims. And they appreciated his quickness in correcting a mistake.

“I think he knows his choice of words caused some alarm, and he owned it. He corrected it,” said Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney for the Colorado Muslim Society who is helping represent the Downtown Denver Islamic Center. “I really respect that.”